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Old 10-26-2005, 10:53 PM   #1
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Default This forum is falling into a “town cop” syndrome....

(Sorry everyone, I have too much time on my hands...some admittedly unnecessary and overly idealistic ramblings are about to ensue....)

Ever heard of it? No? That could be because the syndrome doesn’t exist, I made it up a year or two ago when I was running a forum of my own. What it is to me is when persons are given authority over a small and well-behaved community; these persons, understandably, feel a responsibility – or a desire - to make a difference, to exert their authority. Like a town cop (at least the cops in my town), there really is very little for them to do - there is very little speeding, and just about no crime. So they resort to bothering people on very minor infringements, and I’m sure I don't need to run down a list of examples, I bet most of you have first-hand experiences of being pointlessly “hassled” by the police at one point or another (and if you don’t, then you clearly aren’t extreme enough to be reading this.). You know how you feel after being “hassled,” there’s a little bit of a bitter taste in the back of your mouth, you feel belittled, and all around you are not as happy a person as you were before. With this kind of behavior, all the police really accomplish in the end is making the community feel slightly more negative and oppressed, and creating a barrier between the people with authority and those without. This is, obviously, not the way it should be, authority is given to keep everyone happy - but that is plainly not always the case.

Maybe you are a keen individual, and if you are, you probably know where I’m going with this, and see the parallels I’m trying to draw between town cops and this forum and its moderators and administrators. If you happen to be, say, a libertarian, you might see this as an insult, but I can assure you it is not. I like town cops as do I like moderators and administrators - I know they are necessary. But in most cases they aren’t perfect, and in most cases they could feasibly do their job better to make the community they serve better. Mostly it just comes down to attitude, plain and simple. So many people with authority tend to “talk down” to people without authority, intentionally or not, and this can very easily tick someone off, make them angry, and create a hostile environment. Avoiding a hostile environment can be as easy as a simple rephrasing of words while maintaining the same meaning.

For example, if someone is breaking a rule, one authoritative figure could be curt and aggressive about it towards the perpetrator, and exude a sense of superiority, but this will not settle anything, it will just incite whoever is misbehaving further, I have seen it happen so many times before. A little respect makes all the difference in the world. If the authoritative figure understands clearly that his/her job doesn’t make him/her in anyway superior to anyone else, and if this understanding comes through in the way they conduct themselves, it will create for a much more positive town, and also, a much more positive forum.

So now the authoritative figures are being respectful, but respectful hassling can still be a, well, hassle. People with authority should really practice restraint, and identify when the exertion of authority will actually help anyone or not. I was at a party a few months ago, one with a very minimal amount of illicit activities such as underage drinking; mostly people were just socializing, playing cards, playing pool, or watching television. And the party was busted by the town cops. A lot of people’s nights were ruined, some got in trouble, and I can’t at all see any positives that came from it. This got me thinking, though, more about the “town cop” syndrome idea, because the cops reminded me a little of how I used to be – in my younger and less intelligent days - when I was a moderator for a fairly large hardware forum. I admit I used to scour the forum for anyone breaking any rules, and jumped on the opportunity to close threads or delete posts or any other way I could feel like I was doing something. But in hindsight, the truth is that I could have helped out a lot more by respectfully trying to direct things back on track, or just allow the forum’s intelligent members to work things out themselves. Because there is no sense of finality for anyone that comes from closing threads or deleting posts, it is just irritating to everyone. Once I thought about it, I really doubt my closing threads or deleting posts really helped out at all, except when it came to the few topics that were nothing but flamewars or posts that were nothing but flamebait. And the town cops busting that party weren’t really helping out at all either, but in the end they do serve essential purposes.

I emailed something like this - with some of the above points - to the moderators of the forum I was running a few years ago, and they listened. I hope some of the moderators here will listen, even though in this case I’m not some big, powerful, administrator, just a lowly visitor. I’m not telling anyone what to do, I’m just working towards the same goal you are: to create and maintain a better community.

(Hot damn, that's a lot of text I just produced! This has got to be a forum record for the most words in one post.)
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Old 10-26-2005, 11:16 PM   #2
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Know what, guys? Talk amongst yourselves on this issue, if you feel the need to. That's absolutely fine. I'll read whatever you have to say, but I have no desire to comment. As long as no one posts links to abandonware in here, we'll all be happy.

I will never understand why people feel the need to criticize moderators in public when it's equally easy to shoot them a PM with your concerns. It may make the people doing the criticizing feel good but it's not a good way to initiate change. I'd love it if people would bring this sort of shit up with me, and I personally don't think I'm that scary a person. But maybe I am. *shrug* Oh well.

It's past midnight and I have to work in the morning, so I'm off to bed. Really, though, debate this to your heart's content. It's cool.
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Old 10-26-2005, 11:25 PM   #3
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Whatever it is, it's all down to the lack of cheese. If there was more cheese on this forum, like a good Wensleydale or a tangy Yorkshire Blue, maybe some salty Gorgonzola or even just good old Cottage Cheese, then not only would the forum seem a better place, but the world would be just that little bit more cheery. Er... cheesy. Or did I mean cheery?
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Old 10-27-2005, 12:04 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by squarejawhero
Whatever it is, it's all down to the lack of cheese. If there was more cheese on this forum, like a good Wensleydale or a tangy Yorkshire Blue, maybe some salty Gorgonzola or even just good old Cottage Cheese, then not only would the forum seem a better place, but the world would be just that little bit more cheery. Er... cheesy. Or did I mean cheery?
I like cheese. Wish I was eating it right now.
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Old 10-27-2005, 12:05 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by fov
...I personally don't think I'm that scary a person. But maybe I am. *shrug* Oh well.
Scary, no. Very kind and sweet, yes.
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Old 10-27-2005, 12:07 AM   #6
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Nothing wrong with a good old fashioned bit of Chedder.

Put on some bread sprinkle for onions and chives, maybe a dash of Lee & Perins and grill until cheese is melted.
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Old 10-27-2005, 12:14 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Lucien21
Nothing wrong with a good old fashioned bit of Chedder.

Put on some bread sprinkle for onions and chives, maybe a dash of Lee & Perins and grill until cheese is melted.
I was always partial to cream of potato soup with a nice grilled cheese sandwich.
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Old 10-27-2005, 01:04 AM   #8
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Was the original post about the locking of the Fables & Fiends thread? If yes, then I understand what you feel, Fum, but to generalize it as a "forum syndrome" seems to be stretching things a lot. The only other thread I saw that was locked recently was becoming a shooting contest.

And fov, the reason why people are not sending PM instead of posting is partly, I think, because they don't know the moderators. I mean, I could send you or Trep or Jackal a PM, because I feel like I kind of know you, but I have hardly had any contact with Tabacco, for example, so I would feel awkward sending him a PM. It's just not in my nature.
Also, in my opinion, and probably more importantly, a post is far more mundane, and doesn't carry as much weight as a PM. A PM is a complaint to a specific person, while a post is a part of a discussion.

Does that make sense?
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Old 10-27-2005, 01:30 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Ninth
The only other thread I saw that was locked recently was becoming a shooting contest.
I agree, Ninth. Believe it or not, myself and the other mods don't go around closing and deleting threads all the time, though that would make managing them a lot easier

Quote:
Also, in my opinion, and probably more importantly, a post is far more mundane, and doesn't carry as much weight as a PM. A PM is a complaint to a specific person, while a post is a part of a discussion.
As long as such posts do not turn into personal attacks and jibes, then I have no problem with them, but if they do then I'll have to bring out the frying pan.

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Old 10-27-2005, 06:03 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ninth
And fov, the reason why people are not sending PM instead of posting is partly, I think, because they don't know the moderators.
Good point.

For future reference, the current mods on this forum are me, VoodooFX, and Dale Baldwin. There are other people on staff who have mod privileges and sometimes step in to help out (and it's a good thing, because too much happens around here for three people to handle it all), but it's the three of us who make a living at it. If you are having an issue that you want to bring to a mod's attention, you can start by PMing one of us. I'll see about making this info more prominent on the forum somewhere.

EDIT: Oh - I read this to be "don't know who the moderators are". Well, if you don't know us and are nervous about sending a private message, I can understand that. On the other hand, getting to know forumites and responding to their questions is sort of our job. I can't force anyone to like me, but I can assure you that I do want to hear what you have to say. Just not always in public.

EDIT2: For future reference, AFGNCAAP is now a moderator too.

Last edited by fov; 10-30-2005 at 03:56 PM.
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Old 10-27-2005, 06:13 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by fov
Good point.

For future reference, the current mods on this forum are me, VoodooFX, and Dale Baldwin. There are other people on staff who have mod privileges and sometimes step in to help out (and it's a good thing, because too much happens around here for three people to handle it all), but it's the three of us who make a living at it. If you are having an issue that you want to bring to a mod's attention, you can start by PMing one of us. I'll see about making this info more prominent on the forum somewhere.
Ok. I'm still perplexed, though. Let's say that I was Fum, that Tabacco had closed a thread after a somewhat dry reply, and that I didn't like it (I'm not saying that's what happened, even though that's how I myself interpreted Fum's starting this thread, it's just an example). What should I do?
A. Nothing. (but that's probably not that good, as far as the overall "ambiance" is concerned, if people hold grudges against the power that be)
B. PM Tabacco. But I don't feel like I know him well enough for me to send him a mail saying that I'm not happy with what he did, plus, as far as I know, he's the ultimate forum authority, which is rather intimidating.
C. PM one of you three mods. But wouldn't it sound whiny, like "mom, the bad man yelled at me!!!"
D. Start a thread, which (in my opinion, of course) at least gives everyone the opportunity to express themselves, especially the people who feel concerned by this issue.
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Old 10-27-2005, 06:14 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by fov
I will never understand why people feel the need to criticize moderators in public when it's equally easy to shoot them a PM with your concerns. It may make the people doing the criticizing feel good but it's not a good way to initiate change. I'd love it if people would bring this sort of shit up with me, and I personally don't think I'm that scary a person. But maybe I am. *shrug* Oh well.
Well, if you offer feedback in public, other people can see what's going on. Transparency is something that I think maybe should be valued in its own right, but I also think it helps establish common ground between the moderators and the other contributors. A while back I raised a concern with a couple of the mods, and one of the things they told me in response was something to the effect of "well, you don't know about all the shit we have to deal with behind the scenes" (so actions that may seem overly harsh are often justified by things that were said in private, or in posts that were quickly deleted). If all appeals and complaints, justified or unreasonable, were made in public, we would maybe understand better.

Another benefit of keeping it public is that the person raising the issue can get input from the entire community. If other people share the concern, they can second the appeal. If they think the person is overreacting they can offer their support for the mod's call. If they think the person is out of line they can mock him/her mercilessly. That way, mods will have a better idea whether an opinion is widely shared or just the view of one troublemaker.

I'm not suggesting that the forums should be made a democracy, where the decisions of the mods can be overruled by popular vote. Just that there's a wisdom of crowds, and if 90% of posters advise you to do something other than what you were intending, it might be worth listening to them as they might be right.

I definitely see the drawbacks with making procedural issues public as well. It can easily devolve into a confrontation between mods and regular posters, and a single person's sense of grievance can prove infectious, provoking general resentment. Besides, having everything archived would make it that more difficult to put the disagreement behind us.

My point here is merely that I don't think Fum and others post these things in public to make trouble, or as a sharper rebuke than a PM would be. Mods often express a preference for dealing with these things in private, but I believe there are good arguments for either approach.
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Old 10-27-2005, 06:58 AM   #13
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To respond to what Fum posted, I'm not sure I believe that there's a "town cop syndrome" on these forums. Mods are always going to make some decisions you disagree with, and some mods may even follow a systematic policy you don't agree with. That doesn't mean they're just making up reasons to exercise their authority.

My theory is that mods and regular posters just have very different experiences of the forum. One part of this is that mods have to do a lot of work, while posters are just here recreationally. Another is that (like I mentioned in the post above) the mods see a lot more of the stuff that goes down behind the scenes. Yet another is that when mods make a call, they know why they are doing it, while regular posters can usually only guess. Another is that the mods (I assume) know each other to some extent, while most posters don't know many of the mods that well; what their personalities are, which things push their buttons, what their philosophies on the forums are, who they are when not on the job. Knowing people tends to make them less intimidating. Of course, the mods tend to have been around for a long time, and remember things most other posters never experienced. And finally, the mods have the power, and regular posters don't.

That last point is pretty crucial. Closing a thread doesn't seem like a big deal when you can do it at the flick of a finger, and the thread had run its course anyway. You know if there's something else that needs to be said, you can always reopen it. It just takes flipping a bit, really. But when you have a thread closed on you, there's nothing you can do. That response you had been composing in your head? Throw it away. You can't start a new thread without risking the ire of the mods. The chance of getting anybody to change their mind is vanishingly small. It's not a simple task of flipping a bit to you, it's an irrevocable change in the world.

Once you hang around for a while you realize that it's not such a big deal after all, since most discussions worth having eventually come around again. You start to see the pattern in moderator action. The close of a thread comes to seem less like an unappealable "End of discussion!" than a chance to start fresh. Splitting, joining and moving threads starts to seem like tidying up more than any kind of censorship. (The recent move of all KQIX discussion into one thread being a case in point. I was positively grateful for my posts being moved.)

The one thing I doubt I'll ever get over is having posts deleted. I don't remember the last time it happened on this forum, but it always leaves me seething. Something like "I deleted all the posts that were off-topic to the thread" strikes me as a clear example of mods abusing their authority. If there's one thing I expect from moderators, it's respect for the writings we've chosen to publish on this forum, even if they may seem frivolous. I don't think anything should be deleted unless it's against the forum rules and also deeply offensive or hurtful. Even if it's just two forum members having a fight, I don't think it should be deleted. Move it to its own thread, lock it and tell them to carry it on over PM if they must; just please don't erase posts they've put energy into writing.

But I digress. I think the mods here do a generally good job. Maybe there's some unnecessary locking of threads that don't really seem to be harming anybody, but I doubt that the reason for this is that mods feel a need to exercise their authority.
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Old 10-27-2005, 07:03 AM   #14
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Thanks for your post, Snarky. Makes for good reading.

Deleting posts is not something we do lightly. In fact, the only time we ever really do it is in the case of spam.
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Old 10-27-2005, 07:06 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by fov
Thanks for your post, Snarky. Makes for good reading.

Deleting posts is not something we do lightly. In fact, the only time we ever really do it is in the case of spam.
But then it's probably a immense pleasure. "Here goes your garbage spam post, moron! BWAHAAHAHAH!" Or some such.

What about my question up there, fov? (if you don't want to answer, pleae tell me, or else I won't be able to sleep tonight )

EDIT: And Snarky, yeah, great posts. I agree with pretty much everything you said.
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Old 10-27-2005, 07:14 AM   #16
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What about my question up there, fov? (if you don't want to answer, pleae tell me, or else I won't be able to sleep tonight )
Is it nighttime where you are already? I'm just about to go to work.

I'd say this is the ideal way to handle any forum issue that comes up:

Quote:
C. PM one of you three mods. But wouldn't it sound whiny, like "mom, the bad man yelled at me!!!"
No, it won't sound whiny (unless you phrase your PM that way deliberately ). We're here to sort through forum issues, so we fully expect to have that kind of conversation from time to time.
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Old 10-27-2005, 07:15 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Ninth
But then it's probably a immense pleasure. "Here goes your garbage spam post, moron! BWAHAAHAHAH!" Or some such.
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Old 10-27-2005, 07:16 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by fov
Is it nighttime where you are already? I'm just about to go to work.

I'd say this is the ideal way to handle any forum issue that comes up:



No, it won't sound whiny (unless you phrase your PM that way deliberately ). We're here to sort through forum issues, so we fully expect to have that kind of conversation from time to time.
It's 5 PM, really, so I'm not tonight, but tonight is just around the corner.

And ok for answer C. Will do, if need be.
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Old 10-27-2005, 07:18 AM   #19
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Didn't we just go through this?

Some people seem to have an exaggerated expectation of what we should or even CAN share publicly. Detailed explanations, full disclosure, documented case histories, whatever. Even if that were desirable, which it isn't (as what exists privately should stay private), it's just not possible. It may seem like a copout to say "everything is complicated", but it's also true. And while it's wonderfully idealistic to think that people would be satisfied with more feedback, it never works that way in practice.

I don't think any of us ever said that we think people are TRYING to make trouble for us. That doesn't mean some don't act without thought to the trouble it DOES cause us. Everything anyone does around here takes time and effort, and the more people who think it's fun to publicly debate and question and challenge everything we do ad infinitum is showing no understanding of that. So if our answers start becoming more... blunt... it should hardly come as a surprise. I'm sure people would be much happier if we devoted that fourth hour a day to our answers instead of the three (random numbers here), but sometimes three is enough on this end.

The town cop thing is a cute story, but it's irrelevant. We do NOT go looking for heads to bust, and we "cops" would like nothing better than to sit around on our asses all day and eat freaking powdered donuts and drinking free coffee. Some people need to reconsider who's hassling whom. People keep pulling the alarm, and we'll keep needing to go investigate.

I said this the last time, and I'll say it again. If anyone's goal is REALLY to "create and maintain a better community", we'd love that. And they can start by asking themselves what would help the staff instead of hinder them. Asking or demanding more may sometimes be necessary, but not often.

EDIT: Snarky, your last message wasn't here when I started this, so some of my comments above are based more of the direction of your previous post.

Incidentally, I didn't even notice that F&F thread was closed. While I found the nitpicking annoying personally, it wasn't closed as a "punishment" of any kind.
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Old 10-27-2005, 08:23 AM   #20
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Personally I think the mods do a fantastic job of managing the diverse personalities that always appear in boards of this size.

Yes occassionally things get out of hand that need to be stampted on, but from what I have seen they are always fair across the board.

Keep up the good work

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